Filtering by Tag: artistlife

Notes from the Wardrobe: Let’s Hear it for the Boys...

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I have a pet peeve. Actually two. Okay, if you know me I have a whole farm full of them, but in the case of Love, Loss & What I Wore I have two very specific ones. The first, that I’ve Already covered here is that the play is merely about clothes. The second is that this is a “women’s show”.  

When Spawn was in elementary school I volunteered with the reading program, and kids who would coming in looking for books would often reject them on the basis of whether it was a “boy’s book” or a “girl’s book”. I worked long and hard to convince them (with varying degrees of success) that there was no such thing gendered books. Such is the case with Love, Loss. Yes, these are stories about women’s lives, and yes, we definitely need to see and hear these stories on-stage. Especially now. But as far as the intended audience? There is no such thing as “Men’s Shows” or “Women’s Shows”, only Human shows.

But first, I do want to address the idea that men don’t care about clothes. This is manifestly untrue. They may not care about FASHION but they do care about STYLE. Fashion is what the stores and magazines try to sell you, style is knowing who you are and adorning yourself accordingly. They care about the expressive power of clothing. The guys I work with at Pioneer all have definite takes on clothing, whether they admit it or not. Jon, my assistant director, has an affinity for “old-man sweaters” and very definite ideas about pants. He also has a collection of bow ties for dress up that includes Spider Man and bacon. Dan, our company artistic director has a great collection of silver and beaded bracelets that I have tried to pilfer on more than one occasion. And Doug, one of our board members, and the director of our spring show Tommy, is almost never seen in public without his leather jacket. Each of these guys has a very distinct look that is part of their persona as artists and creators. They have STYLE.

And then there are the stories...One of the interesting things about the rehearsal process has been how often a scene we’ve worked on sparks a cascade of stories from both actors and production team. One monologue about a prom dress had all the women and men in the rehearsal room telling stories not just about what we wore to our proms but who we took, what we did afterwards and what our dates turned out to be in their adult life. Sometimes all it takes to spark a connection or conversation is the shared memory of an object. In our case the object just happened to be clothes. 

Not all stories illustrate the commonalities, but illuminate the differences and that too is a blessing. There are things men never experience that are part of the daily fabric of being a woman. Dealing with the expectations of a society that sends constantly mixed messages. That insists you must be sexy and desirable but if you are sexually assaulted somehow you bear the responsibility. That tells you that men and women are from different planets and it must simply be accepted that there will never be understanding between the two. But the beauty of really listening to someone’s else’s stories is that we begin to understand the world from a perspective outside our own. This is what a show like this offers to men. The chance to see the world in a different way.

So bring your girlfriends and sisters and mothers to see Love, Loss & What I Wore  but bring the men in your life too. You’ll be surprised at what happens. 

What’s In A Song

 


 

Photo by Cindy Banescu  

Photo by Cindy Banescu 

I am a song geek. I love songs, I love discovering them, singing them, tearing them apart and devouring the subtext and meaning. I get all goofy when I talk about songs I love. My hands flail and my voice reaches a speed and pitch that can best be described as Minnie Mouse on helium.

What excites me about a song? Some of it is certainly chemistry, that beyond explanation something that reaches out and pulls me in, that little voice that tells me “this is your song”.  But the other part of the equation is logical. If I were to dismantle and analyse all the songs I adore I would find elements they all have in common.

 Good Bones - Michele Brourman talks a lot about Seduction by Production, which is a song that so captures your attention with its instrumentation and enthusiasm that it takes a listen or two to figure out there’s really no there there. A great song will stand on its own without the embelishments. It holds up whether it’s sung accapella or with a full orchestra. An ornate frame won’t make a mediocre painting better it merely distracts you for a while. 

Heart - It’s not enough to make me think if it doesn’t also make me feel

Balance - I’m looking for the perfect marriage of lyric and melody.

Transporting - I want a song to be transporting. I want to be taken to a place outside myself, somewhere that gives me a new perspective and elevates me. If I can see the world from a different vantage point that’s when I know I’m on to something.

Illuminating - It is a gift  to unearth a tune that shows me something new about myself. 

Transforming - A song can open a window of understanding into something that is entirely outside my experience. A song that can change your view of the world (or any tiny corner of it) is a song that has power.

Tells a great story (arc) - Some songs tell linear stories, some don’t. It doesn’t matter how the story is told only that there is one, that you come to the end of it in a different place from where you started. It has to be a great ride. 

Attention to craft - I have seen Miss Carol Hall take a singer to task over a tiny lyric mistake like changing an and, an or, or a but. Not because she was being difficult but because every word matters. She labors over finding just the right words to express her point. This is craft and must be respected.  

Makes me want to sing - I have experienced no greater joy in life than wrapping my vocal cords, brain and heart around a wonderful song. There ain’t nothing like it in the world!

Whew! Trying to distill all this into a few bullet points was a challenge. If I let myself I could keep going on this for days, but I would love to know what you think. What makes you fall in love with a song?

 

 

Imperfectly Perfect

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Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist. ─ Jane Smiley

A friend of mine likes to say, “First drafts are always yucky”. Of course, he uses a word other than yucky, but I’m trying to keep  my language a little more PG rated these days (or maybe just this hour...minute...whatever). His point though is that when starting a project it’s not so important what you write, only that you write it. I feel the same way about dancing.

I don’t often post videos of my dancing. I loathe watching myself. When I do the inner demons pull up their Barcaloungers and popcorn and whisper in my ear - “You’re too old”, “you look like a giant stork”, “You’re not a pro, you’ll never be, why bother, you just look foolish” , “look at you, your toes don’t point, your turnout’s bad, you’re just flailing about”.

I was not born dancing, I did not start when I was three, I started only about three years ago. I took a dance class here and there growing up, but I was never good at it so I put my energy into the places I was - singing and acting. When I look at where I was when I started and where I am now, there is vast improvement. I am still in my first draft dancewise. I’m not where I was, but I’m not where I’m going to be either.

So, if I distract the inner demons with something shiny to shut them up and watch this video again this is what I see... 

*A woman who is using decades of training in acting and music to add to what she’s learned about dance to give a performance that appears confident and assured. There is no stumbling around wondering what comes next, she is moving from moment to moment with certainty (except when she’s supposed to appear uncertain....again....acting chops)

*A woman who has worked hard to learn a new skill. Someone who has invested in herself and understands that to get to the good stuff sometimes you have to risk looking foolish. 

*A woman with determination, unwilling to let the opinions of other people stop her. 

*A woman who battles her demons and fears every time she walks into the dance studio, but stubbornly refuses to allow them to rule her. 

* A woman who keeps trying daily to perfect herself on her own terms. 

And so I post my dance video. This is my first draft. Better than some, not as good as others, but entirely mine. 

 

 

Hitting the High Points...

This summer has been one of constant motion - I joined the board of Pioneer Productions, produced (and had a cameo appearance in) a musical and hit two very big milestones. One was inevitable and the other came through more than two years of blood,sweat and blisters.

The first biggie was my birthday. Whether it was divisible by five, ten or three hundred twelve I will leave you to guess. I’m not ashamed of my age but I also don’t feel the need to advertise it. I have officially entered my IDGAF Years. You have been warned.

The other was that I moved from Bronze level to Silver in my dancing. In my studio you start out at Bronze one and work your way through four levels until you reach the Silver level. Basically the Bronze syllabus is what most colleges use in their ballroom dance majors so finishing it is the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. It took two and a half years and a whole lot of toil but I did it and I’m proud of it. 

I had no idea when I started it but studying dance has been the best decision I could have made. It has made an impact on almost every other aspect of my life. In an odd way almost everything that has happened in my career in the last couple of years can be traced back to this decision. 

Dancing did not make me a different performer/person but through it I have become more myself than I have ever been. I am finally at home in my own skin and that has given me confidence both physically and psychically. The skills I already had when I started, the ability to create a character, to perform, to engage an audience, to tell a story have only grown stronger. Added to that are new ways of expressing myself and different ways to explore and understand music. Also, because ballroom is an art that is dependent upon working with another person it has enhanced my ability to communicate with a partner.

I have always been great with words. Words have been my salvation throughout my entire life. Dance has enhanced my nonverbal communication. I can take the stage without saying a word and that is a powerful tool to own.

It took me a while to come around to seeing it this way, but Dance has given me the gift of being a beginner again. You can never fully master an art unless you allow yourself the time and space to be bad at it. It’s not just how you conquer your craft but what teaches you empathy and patience. Knowing this makes me a stronger performer and a better teacher of performers. (This will really come in handy when I teach my Solo performance workshop in October. A plethora of shameless plugs coming soon.)

Finally, there’s the wardrobe. It hasn’t really changed that, it’s just given me even more opportunities to break out the sequins, fringe and corsets. This is the most excellent thing of all! 

 

Dance Diary Sturm Und Samba

The first time I took a West Coast Swing class I went home and cried. The next day I went into the studio and my instructor said, “we’re going to do a West Coast Swing solo...” I worked really hard and did it, now it’s my favorite dance. This will not happen with Samba. If a praying mantis and a bunny had a baby that danced that’s my samba. It’s never made me cry, but more than a few Brazillilans have when they see me do it. Yesterday an instructor said to me, “I see something in your samba I have never seen before,” he did not explain what this meant. I love the music, I love watching other people dance it, I love the costumes, it is just not my dance. By now I have done enough samba to know my loathing will never turn to love. And yet...

I still do it. Yes, it’s part of my program I’m forced to do it no matter my feelings on the matter. But also, not liking something is no reason not to do it. Well, it is but in this case there are reasons to do it anyway. Samba has a very distinct rhythm and timing, and anything that gives a musician a different way of using those things is a very good thing. Samba is also one of the more energetic dances so I’m burning lots of calories thus justifying the occasional baked goods binge. 

Mostly though, I’m stubborn. I don’t like to be bad at anything, even something I hate. This might be my best/worst thing. Best because I think that getting through life requires tenacity and a refusal to accept circumstances which are not to my liking. Worst because it causes me to hold on to some things longer than I should. 

I’ll be holding on to samba a little longer. I suspect it still has some things to teach me. 

 

 

On Worthiness

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There are days when I struggle with the idea of being worthy. I was not raised by artists, my family didn’t know anyone who made their living from art and so I was a bit of an outlier. “It’s a nice dream, but not many people make it, what makes you think you’re talented enough to do it?”  I’m not blaming them, the world is a scary place and the last thing you want is to see your child struggle. You want them to be safe in an unsafe world. They were voicing the same ideas that many people have about pursuing a career in the arts. “Who are you to  think YOU are enough to do this”?

Even now I get comments from “well meaning” friends and complete strangers - “Well, it must be nice to.....” or “aren’t you lucky...” Luck has nothing to do with it. I’ve worked and I’ve sacrificed to be able to do the things that I do. It’s taken me the better part of three decades not just to be good at what I do, but to look another human in the eye and admit it . It is false humility to brush off compliments and pretend that the things I am able to do came about through any means other than sheer toil.

Truthfully, I wish I had learned this year’s ago, but maybe I wasn’t ready yet. My career path hasn’t looked like anyone else’s and most likely never will. There have been times when I’ve made it harder on myself than it needed to be, and times when I allowed someone else’s opinions to divert me. For a long time I refused to use the word artist in reference to myself because I thought it wasn’t up to me to declare myself one. It turns out I had it backwards. 

I am an artist, and I am worthy of a career in art. This is my declaration. I have put in the time and the effort to become one, and no one can take that away from me unless I let them. And that ain’t gonna happen.

My Life as a Broadway Musical

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A few weeks ago on twitter the writer Nicole Cliffe asked her followers to imagine explaining their lives to their therapist in one song from a Broadway musical. I chose  I Put a Little More Mascara On from La Cage Aux Folles. In case you aren’t familiar with this particular tune (and why aren’t you?) it’s about seeing life through the lens of your self created fabulousness. I recognize that to some people this is the ultimate in shallowness. How unfemininist of me to believe that a little lipstick and mascara can change my life. And yet...

I have to start this story with my mother. Mom was born with a very rare disease of the connective tissue called Marfan’s Syndrome (both Jonathan Larson and Abraham Lincoln had the same condition), it caused her a number of issues throughout her life, early onset glaucoma and osteoporosis, malformation of certain bones, and heart problems. She died, as many Marfan’s patients do, of an aneurysm at age fifty-nine. From the moment she was born she was the object of curious doctors who often treated her more as an object that a human being. She loathed, more than anything else being seen by the world as a “sick person.” 

In my entire life with my mother she NEVER left the house without being perfectly made up and immaculately dressed. This was not vanity, this was survival. She could not control what other people thought of her, she couldn’t control what was happening in her own body, but she could control this. She could choose the face she presented to the world. It was her rebellion against a world that could not look past the disease to see a brilliant, witty woman, who had endless compassion and empathy for everyone she met. 

I think maybe this is one of the most important things my mother taught me. I would rather my life be seen as musical comedy than Shakespearean tragedy. In musical comedy you know the plucky heroine may be faced with serious and seemingly insurmountable obstacles but she will triumph in the end and  along the way there will be sequins, great songs and at least one fabulous dance number. Unlike in Shakespeare where the costumes are lovely but by the end of act III not a soul is left standing. 

The actress Ann Miller said “I’ve tried to live my life like an 8 x 10 glossy”. There will be those who read this and think I’m talking about fakery, about not being “authentic”, and I would have to disagree. There is nothing wrong with wanting to chose what you put out into the world. Putting your best face forward is not a denial that life is hard, but a celebration of what makes life wonderful. There is joy in becoming who you are and sharing that with the world. In the words of La Cage’s Zaza 'Cause when I feel glamorous, elegant, beautiful, The world that I'm looking at's beautiful too!

 

 

The Hardest Words

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For someone who considers herself a word nerd the two words in the English language I have the most trouble with are surprisingly...well...small. They aren’t hard to spell or pronounce, and don’t impress strangers at dinner parties. Just two simple ordinary words that manage to flummox me. They are “sorry” and “no”. To me they are opposing ends of the same spectrum. One I overuse and one I underuse.  

Let’s start with the word I find creeping into my vocabulary many more times a day than it should - sorry. I had the double whammy of growing up in the south and an extremely conservative male dominated religion which sent the message loud and clear that men don’t like women who eat on dates, beat them at board games or have opinions (especially if those opinions differ from his). I was told that I could not be the head of my household but if I was very lucky and smart (meaning able to use to my “feminine wiles to manipulate”) I could be the neck that turns the head. Thus I found myself prefacing any expression of my thoughts with the words “I’m sorry”.

What I am sorry for I’ve never been quite sure. Breathing? Being female?  Not being feminine enough to be keep my mouth shut? Maybe what I am really saying is, “please don’t hate me for having a well articulated and thought out  point”. Oddly, what I have discovered is that the more certain I am about something the more apologetic I can be about expressing it. It’s exhausting.

And then there’s “no”. It’s barely even a full syllable and yet so difficult for me to say. I cannot tell you the trouble this has caused. Well, I could but who has time to read a post that long? I suspect it’s hereditary. I have very few memories of my mother ever outright saying no. Mostly it was “maybe” or “We’ll see” accompanied by a enigmatic Mona Lisaesque smile and a fervent hope the matter wouldn’t come up again.  

Sometimes I find myself prefacing the word no with the dreaded “sorry”. As in “I’m sorry but no, I won’t be able to do a forty five minute set for free at your birthday party even though your nephew’s best friend’s cousin’s mother in law is a big agent.” The ugly truth is usually I’m not all that contrite. 

My birthday is coming up in just a couple of months and I think it’s time to enter my IDGAF years. Which means stop apologizing and start using the word no without guilt. This is the gift I’m giving myself. Well, that and a pair of shoes, which I will buy without an apology.